Iraqi EFL Learners Realization of Morphological, Syntactic, and Semantic Causative/Inchoative

Iraqi EFL Learners Realization of Morphological, Syntactic, and Semantic Causative/Inchoative

Iraqi EFL Learners’ Realization of Morphological, Syntactic, and Semantic Causative/Inchoative Verbs and their Alternation

Asrar Jabir Edan Suzanne Saad Mohammed Ali

Al-Tulaitela Secondary School for Girls University of Kufa/ College of Education

The Abstract

Many studies have been achieved upon Iraqi EFL learners' understanding and using English grammar, yet none of them focused on their realization of causative/ inchoative verbs and their alternation. The present study sheds the light upon this aspect attempting to test their recognition and their production of the above phenomena with respect to morphology, syntax and semantics. Actually, Iraqi EFL learners have difficulties in distinguishing them morphologically in a sense that they are expected to lack awareness in derive such verbs. Also, they misunderstand the syntactic and semantic changes when deriving such verbs. In fact, the approach of testing these terms of language is valuable because it helps us to recognize which one is more likely to be understood and which one is not. To achieve the aims and the expectations, the researchers has adopted a number of measures among which is to construct a test of two levels , i.e., recognition and production. Conclusion shows that subjects’ performance at recognition task is better than that at the production one.

Key words: Iraqi Learners of English as a Foreign Language, causative verbs, inchoative verbs, causative –inchoative alternation, morphology, syntax , semantics, test, analysis.


تم انجاز العديد من الدراسات حول ادراك الطلبة العراقين الدارسين اللغة الانجليزية كلغة اجنبية حول استخدامهم قواعد اللغة الإنجليزية ولكن لم تركز ايا منها على استخدام الطلبة للافعال السببية و التحولية و وتناوبهما . و بناءا على ذلك تم انشاء هذه الدراسة لتسلط الضوء على هذا الجانب محاولة بذلك اختبار ادراك و انتاج للظواهر اللغوية أعلاه , فيما يتعلق بالخصائص النحوية و المقطعية ومعاني الكلمات.في حقيقة الامر ان الطلبة الدارسين يواجهون صعوبات في تصريف و اشتقاق هذه الافعال. اعتماد اسلوب الاختبار كان ذا فائدة كبيرة حيث ساعد على تعريفنا بالفعل الاكثر شيوعا و فهما و استعمالا للدراسين وبالتالي ايهم الاصعب من النواحي النحوية و التقطيعية و الدلالية. ومن الاهداف الاساسية لهذه الدراسة توضيح استعياب الطلبة العراقين الدارسين للغة الانجليزية لهذه الافعال و كيفية اشتقاقها و ادراكهم للتغييرات التي تطرأ عليها بعد الاشتقاق من حيث الجوانب و الخصائص المذكورة اعلاه. لتحقيق اهداف البحث و فرضياته , قامت الباحثتين باعتماد عدد من الاجراءات لاختبار المستوى الطلبة المعرفي و الانتاجي لهذه الافعال. واظهرت الاستنتاجات للدراسة الحالية ان اداء عينة الدراسة في مستوى التميز افضل من ادائهم في مستوى الانتاج, وعلى اساس هذه الاستنتاجات تم استخلاص المضامين التعليمية ذات الصلة و يتبعها الخاتمة التي تلخص جملة استنتاجات البحث.

الكلمات المفتاحية: ادراك الطلبة العراقيين الدارسين اللغة الانجليزية كلغة اجنبية, الافعال السببية, الافعال التحولية, تناوب الافعال السببية و التحويلية, الظواهر و الصفات النحوية و الدلالية و المقطعية. تحليل , الاختبار.

1. Introduction

The English language is rich with a variety of verb groups, among which are causative and inchoative verbs. The former denote some action and an entity that brings this action about or represents the reason for this action to take place which are frequently compared with inchoative forms of a verb which, in turn, denote that an action took place without an entity causing it or without mentioning the entity that might have caused it, (See Frankowska, 2012: 8). In other words inchoative verbs refer to a change of state, occurring to the subject. This subject is not an agent but a theme or the entity that undergoes something:

(1) a. The ice melts/ breaks.

Such verbs often allow another causative form in which the theme appears as the object

b. They melted/ broke the ice. (Koopman et al., n.d.:107)

There is a strong relation between inchoative and causative verbs. This gives arise to a kind of alternation between the transitive and intransitive uses of the same lexical verb, without any morpho-phonological change. This is called causative alternation or causative-inchoative alternation. Actually not all English verbs undergo this alternation which might lead students to face difficulties in realizing and producing it. Since inchoative verbs are derived in two ways, Iraqi EFL learners are not aware enough of determining which affix to be added to the particular adjective to derive an inchoative verb.They also face difficulties in differentiating inchoative verbs ending in –en and verbs originally ending with –en like listen . Consequently, they are unable to analyze such constructions. And their difficulties goes on in understanding what is meant by using such constructions.

This research aims to shed light more closely on the morphological, syntactic, and semantic nature of these kinds of verbs and the possible alternation between them. Therefore , they study hypothesised that Iraqi EFL learners are expected to face problems not only in understanding the nature and usage of these verbs but also in recognizing and producing the alternative relation between them. To achieve the aims of the study , the following procedures will be adapted: a-Surveying the literature about causative and inchoative verbs and their alternations and finding out the relation between them; b- Applying a test to the fourth year students of the Department of English, College of Education in the University of Kufa, and analyzing the results of the test.

2. Causative Verbs

Causative verbs, such as allow, cause, force, have, keep, hold, let, require, motivate, get, make, convince, hire, assist, encourage, permit, employ, enable, and help express an action which is caused to happen. In other words, they indicate that some person or thing helps to bring about a new state of affairs. They can be similar in meaning to passive verbs:

(2) a. My hair was cut. (Passive)

b. I had my hair cut. (Causative) (Nordquist, 2011:1)

2.1 Definitions

Hurford and Heasly (1983: 20) express that causative form "denotes an action which causes something to happen". For instance, the transitive verb open is the causative from the corresponding to open which is intransitive. Then, if John opens the door, he causes it to open. :

(3) Fiona rolled her pencil across the table.

(4) We'll freeze these strawberries for Christmas (ibid.)

Causative verb means cause to be X. For example the verb boil in (5) is causative since Ellen caused the water to boil:

(5) Ellen boiled the water ( Mc Carthy, 2002:142)

He adds that when causative verbs used transitively, the object, noun phrase, is usually indicating the thing or the person that is the goal of the action of the verb:

(6) a. Jill laid the book on the table.

b. The book lay on the table. (ibid)

2.2 Morphological Properties of the Causative Verbs

Hurford and Heasley (1983: 211) mention that English causatives need zero derivation for producing causative forms as in (6) above. Also, causatives are frequently formed by adding the suffix –en to the non-causative root:

(7) John reddens his hands. ( Hurford et al., 2007: 233) .

Some transitive verbs can be derived from their corresponding intransitive forms:

Intransitive Transitive

Lie (past lay) Lay (past laid)

Rise (past rose) Raise (past raised)

Fall (past fell) Fell (past felled)

Sit (past sat) Set (past set)

Those transitive verbs are all causative in that they mean "cause to X" where X stands for the meaning of the corresponding intransitive, (See McCarthy, 2002:54).

It is worth mentioning that causative- in causative verb-pairs are common in English. They nearly all involve conversion as in:

(8) a. Jill boiled the water.

b. The water boiled. (Ibid.)

2.3 Syntactic Properties of Causative Verbs

Quirk et al. (1972:83) mention that causative requires an animate subject:

(9) a. He pulled his belt right.

b. He pushed the window open.

Such sentences have causative meaning:

(10) a. He caused his belt to be right.

b. He caused the window to be open. (ibid: 224)

In the above sentences, the subject is the person who causes an event. That is the actor in the action. Such actor can be specified by the subject of the clause or the agent in the passive construction:

(11) a. Some children stared the fire. (caused it to start)

b. It was started by some children.

Start here is a causative verb and some children is the actor.

( Leech and Svartvik, 1975: 76)

They (ibid) add saying that many adjectives and intransitive verbs in English have a corresponding causative transitive causative verbs (See 3.3)

(12) a. The dam blew up.

b. The terrorist blew up the dam.

(13) a. The tree has fallen.

b. Someone has felled the tree.


When the actor is not mentioned, the instrument or means takes the position of the subject which represents the role of the causer of the action:

(14) a. They killed him with a bullet.

b. A bullet killed him.

Moreover, the subject can be presented by an agent-by-phrase when the sentence is passivized as in:

c. He was killed by a bullet. (The agent is instrument)

d. He was killed by them. (The agent is the actor)


It is worth mentioning that the verbs (make, have, get) gives the causative meaning. Have is causative or experiential in a sense that it has the meaning of cause. It is often used when speaking about various services and it often has three forms; the first followed by an object and a base form of the verb (15.a), the second followed by an object and -ing form of the verb (15.b), and the third followed by an object and past participle (15.c):

(15) a. They had John arrive early.

b. He had us laughing all through the meal.

c. She had the car washed at the weekend.

Get is often used instead of have and has the same forms:

(16) I got my computer fixed - I had my computer fixed.

Make differs from most other causative verbs, and from most other verbs that take to complement clauses, in that it omits the to in active clauses, although to must be included in the passive. Compare:

(17) a. The nurse made me swallow it.

b. I was made to swallow it (by the nurse).

(Nordquist, 2011:1)

In a few cases, make can be followed by myself, yourself, etc. and a past participle (18.a), in addition the change or effect can be noticed when make followed by a noun or adjective (18.b and c):

(18) a. She had to shout to make herself heard.

b. She made everybody welcome.

c. The rain made the grass wet.

(Swan, 2005:335)

Causative verbs are often used with negative experiences. In these situations it is more common to use have:

(19) I had my wallet stolen.

2.3 Semantic Properties of Causative Verbs

The causative form of a verb is one kind of constructions that allow expressing causation. As Shibatani (1976 cited in Frankowska, 2012:11) suggests, the best way to explain a causative construction is to define a causative situation, expressed by the causative construction. The causative situation suggests there are two events, related to each other: the causing event and the caused event. The relation between them is resultative that is the causing event brings about the caused event and the caused event - the result of the causing event - would not have taken place without the causing event occurring first as in:

(20) a. Kate told / want John to leave.

b. Kate opened the door.

The above sentences explain the causative and non- causative. Example (20.a) consists of two events, but one cannot actually say that the latter event would or would not take place if the first one did. The event of John’s leaving in (20.a) does not depend on the subject’s, who is Kate, action of telling John to leave. So the sentence is not causative because the relation between the two events of telling or wanting is not causing John to leave. Thus, the relation between them is not resultative because John might have left weather Kate wanted or told him to do so or not. On the other hand, in the second sentence ,(20.b.), the subject’s action does influence the other event. This event would not have taken place if the subject had not done something before it took place. For this sentences (20.b.) presents the causative construction that expresses the resultative relation between the caused and the causing event.

It is transitive, so it has the internal argument, which is THEME or PATIENT, and the external argument, which is AGENT-CAUSER. But this could not be over generalized to all transitive verbs are causative simply because not all transitive verbs are causatives.

(21) I kicked (at) the ice and nothing happened to it.

Example (21) presents an ordinary transitive verb which does not contain the relation that mentioned above. The event of kicking (at) the ice, even successful with actual touching the ice with one’s foot, does not make the ice change in any way, inside or outside ice is still ice. But if we say:

(22) I melted the ice.

The event of melting the ice influences it, thus something happens to it. That means its physical state had been changed. Then if we say:

(23) *I melted the ice and nothing happened to it.

The first event of melting is the causing event, subsequently; the caused event is the event of ice turning into water. The result of this causative event should be confirming this relation. Here it denies the caused event. Thus, the result following from the causing event of melting is the event of nothing happening to the ice, which is illogical and contradicts the earlier causing event. This, in turn, explains why the sentence is unacceptable, (ibid:12-13).

As explained before, causative form denotes an action which causes something to happen. The cause in such causative verbs includes either (a) direct or manipulative causation or (b) indirect or influential causation. Then, if Jones breaks a pot by striking it with a hammer, he directly causes the pot to break, and we can say:

(24) a. Jones broke the pot.

Break in this sentence is a causative verb, containing the direct causation predicate CAUSE. But if Jones bumps into Stimson who is carrying the pot, making Stimson drop the pot on the floor and break it, then Jones indirectly causes the pot to break. In this case Jones caused the pot to get broken, so it can be said:

b. Jones caused Stimson to break the pot.

But we can’t say Jones broke the pot. In short, ( 24.a) shows the predicate cause expresses direct causation, and the event [DO(x)] which is the first argument of CAUSE is a directly causative action. (Kearns, 2000:232)

According to the thematic roles, Jones in (24. b) is the agent and that Stimson is the theme. Then Jones, the agent, is the first argument of the sentence cause a change of state theme of the argument which comes to be in a state of breaking the pot. That is the causation made indirectly. The schema clarifies the state as follows:

(24-a) agent =x: Do [x,…] , while

(24-b) change of state theme=y Become [state (y)]

For this Kearns (ibid:233)suggests two types of causative verbs:

1- Agentive causative in which [Do (x) cause[ ... ] as in the example (24.a)

and in this type the causation could be direct or indirect.

2- Non-agentive causative as in :

(25) The storm broke the vasses. [cause (x, [ become[state (y)]]. (ibid)

3. Inchoative Verbs

Inchoative verbs are those that indicate a change of state or specify the beginning of an action or a process (Hasselgard, 1999:5). They are: freeze, dry, melt, wilt, harden, soften, rust, solidify, purify, ripen, fade, sweeten, darken, lighten, blacken, yellow, bake, toast, burn, chill ... ect.

3.1 Definitions

Inchoative (inceptive, ingressive) is a distinctive aspectual form expressing the beginning of a state or activity (Trask, 1993:137).

Hurford et al. (2007: 232) add that an inchoative form denotes the beginning or coming into existence, of some state. That is the adjective dark denotes a state and darkens in (26) which is an intransitive verb represents the corresponding inchoative form, since it denotes the beginning of a state of darkness:

(26) The sky darkened.

Similarly, Hasselgard (1999:5) expresses inchoatives as verbs indicting a change of a state. They specify the beginning of an action or a process:

(27) The page yellowed.

(28) The clothes dried.

The above inchoative verbs denote a change in a state from not yellow to yellow and a wet to dry, (See also, Brinton , 2000: 277)

According to Levin (1993: 9), inchoative verbs are verbs of becoming since they describe a change of state:

(29) The window broke (ibid)

3.2 Morphological Properties of Inchoative Verbs

Morphologically, inchoative verbs are considered derivational words since they are produced by existing derived words from every appropriate source words, (Hurford et al., 2007: 235). They are formed by using word formation process which is derivation. There are two types of suffixes which are added to adjectives to form inchoative verbs.

Those suffixes are: -en suffix as in (30) and (31) and zero suffix as in (32) and (33):

(30) The clay hardened.

(31) The landscape flattened.

(32) My hair dried in the sun.

(33) The sky cleared. (ibid : 232)

Though derivation is very productive process, inchoatives are hardly produced. Productivity here is not culprit, since causative – inchoative –en suffix occurs in a small number of words, (Stmberger, 2007: 18), and it is worth saying that the process of deriving inchoative and causative verbs from adjectives is arbitrary managed because adjectives may or may not be given the inchoative – causative –en suffix. That is one can say harden, deafen but not colden or braven, (Stump, 2007: 3).

Mc Carthy (2007: 1) assures that the English suffix –en that forms verbs from adjectives as in blacken, dampen, redden, loosen, stiffen, ...ect. is restricted to bases ending in obstruents. The non existence of verbs as *coolen , *greyen, puren, ...ect. are good evidence for this. Such restriction does not reflect any general phonological characteristics of English, because it does not apply to the adjective- forming suffix-en as in woollen, or swollen.

Kearns (2000: 233) agrees in that inchoative verbs are represented by the past and past participle of some verbs as in:

(34) The pot broke. (become broke)

(35) The door open. (become open) (ibid)

3.3 Syntactic Properties of Inchoative Verbs

Examining inchoative verbs syntactically, one can conclude that they are intransitive verbs and the corresponding transitive verbs are causatives:

(36) a. The door opened.

b. John opened the door.

c. The key opened the door.

In the above example (36.a) the door is an affected subject that is followed by intransitive verb while in (36 b. and c.) the subject is agent and instrument and the verb is a transitive one which followed by an affected object, ( Greenbaum and Quirk, 1990:172)

3.4 Semantic Properties of Inchoative Verbs

Botne (1983: 149) looks at inchoative verbs as “a set of verbs serves to express a change of condition or location of the subject; many of them characterize the change , or transition, from one state to another”. In his study, he claims that inchoative verbs can be analyzed as a series of temporal phases. He focuses on their behaviour as linguistic representation of the real- world event, and the temporal relationships among these events. (ibid: 150). The temporal phases of those events are represented by onset, nucleus, and coda as in:

[------/ ------/ ------]

Onset nucleus coda event

The onset phase can be described as "the time period immediately preceding, and differing in character from the initial phase of the nucleus". Nucleus represents the preparatory stage for the unclear activity of the event. Coda phase stands for the time segment during which the character of the event fifers from that of the immediately following the nucleus of the event and which bring that event to a definite end (ibid: 152):